Puerto Rico Finally Getting Its Damn Disaster Aid
A week after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico on January 7, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has decided it will finally release $8.2 billion in aid that Congress appropriated to help the island rebuild after Hurricane Maria in 2017. HUD officials readily admitted to Congress in October that they'd blown right past a September deadline to release the aid, because the department was worried about "corruption" in the territory's government. Since then, the department hasn't said anything at all about the continuing delays.
Fun trivia fact: When Congress appropriates money, federal agencies have to spend it. It's the law, as you may remember from other Trump administration abuses of power as one of the very things for which Donald Trump is being impeached. Agencies aren't allowed to withhold aid because the "president" has a racist rage-boner over Puerto Rican officials who fail to recognize his response to a hurricane was perfect.
Politico notes that, of the $20 billion Congress appropriated for Hurricane Maria recovery, only about $1.5 billion has made it to the US territory. Now that HUD has decided to actually follow the law, Puerto Rico will have access to the $8.5 billion tranche of aid that should have been released months ago, and presumably to the rest of the aid as set out by Congress. All that's needed is one more step, a notice published in the Federal Register "outlining the grant agreement and how the money can be used," and we can't imagine HUD would dare screw that up.
Needless to say, a nameless "HUD official" patted his agency on the back for a job well done, telling Politico,
Now that a full financial monitoring team is assembled and active, we can move forward with confidence that these disaster recovery funds will reach those who need them the most.
When HUD missed a second deadline to release the aid in December, Rep. David Price (D-North Carolina), whose subcommittee oversees HUD, called bullshit, noting that HUD's own inspector found no evidence of corruption in the Puerto Rican agency tasked with disbursing the aid. Price also pointed out that the aid bill already requires HUD to monitor reconstruction funding as it's spent, and that the IG routinely does such audits.
In other words, no, HUD didn't need to assemble a financial monitoring team to keep the simple Mexican islanders from spending all the disaster money on liquor and fancy cars from the mainland, because that monitoring is built into every damn aid bill. But it IS a very important part of HUD's mission for Secretary Ben Carson to suck up to Donald Trump.
Jenniffer "Yes With Two Fs" González, Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner, or nonvoting representative in Congress, was appropriately enthusiastic about Donald Trump's great wisdom in releasing aid that should have been spent months ago.
"We've been fighting for this for many months so I'm happy that finally [the Office of Management and Budget] and HUD approved the notification," she said, adding that she had discussed the issue with President Donald Trump on Friday.
Res. Cmmsr. (real abbreviation!) Gonzalez, a Republican, clearly knows how to make clear her gratitude to the Great Man, who still hasn't said a damned thing about the earthquake that left thousands of Americans still living outdoors because their homes are unsafe.
Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-New York), who grew up on the island, said in a statement she was glad the delay was lifted, but added it was "inexcusably overdue," and a reflection of the administration's "disdain for the people of Puerto Rico." She also promised to watch FEMA and other agencies like a hawk to make sure rebuilding gets done, and called on Trump to issue a "major disaster" declaration for the earthquake, which would make far more aid available than the plain vanilla "Emergency" Trump declared last week. If Trump did that, the aid might actually reach Puerto Rico before it becomes a state, declares independence, or is wholly swallowed by the very big ocean that surrounds it.
Speaking of: Puerto Rico was hit today with a 5.2 magnitude aftershock, the latest in a series of 1,280 earthquakes to hit the southern part of the island since December 28. That followed a 5.9 quake Saturday that knocked out power in many areas (again) and further damaged buildings and infrastructure.
All that's left now is for Rudy Giuliani to dispatch Robert Hyde to organize the reconstruction effort, we suppose.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.